"Desert Crossing" 1999 Assumed 400,000 Troops and Still a Mess

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A series of war games held in 1999 specifically to anticipate problems following an invasion of Iraq assumed a deployment of 400,000 troops to maintain order, seal borders and provide for other security needs. But the games, known as Desert Crossing, were apparently ignored by the Defense Department. When CENTCOM commander Gen. Anthony Zinni, after his retirement, advised planners to refer back to Desert Crossing as they prepared for the 2003 invasion, the response reportedly was, "Never heard of it."

Now, seven years later, documentation on preparations for the games and detailed After Action records have surfaced in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive, which is posting the materials on its Web site today.

"The conventional wisdom is the U.S. mistake in Iraq was not enough troops," commented National Security Archive director Thomas Blanton, "but the Desert Crossing war game in 1999 suggests we would have ended up with a failed state even with 400,000 troops on the ground."

Desert Crossing, which amounted to a feasibility study for part of the main war plan for Iraq -- OPLAN 1003-98 -- tested "worst case" and "most likely" scenarios of a post-war, post-Saddam, Iraq. The After Action Report presented its recommendations for further planning regarding regime change in Iraq. The results drew some pessimistic conclusions regarding the immediate possible outcomes of an invasion. A number of these mirror the events which actually occurred after Saddam was overthrown.

* "When the crisis occurs, policy makers will have to deal with a large number of critical issues nearly simultaneously, including demonstrating U.S. leadership and resolve, managing Iraq's neighbors, and rapid policy formulation."

* "A change in regimes does not guarantee stability. A number of factors including aggressive neighbors, fragmentation along religious and/or ethnic lines, and chaos created by rival forces bidding for power could adversely affect regional stability."

* "Iran's anti-Americanism could be enflamed by a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq. ... The influx of U.S. and other western forces into Iraq would exacerbate worries in Tehran ... More than any other country in the region, the principals were most concerned by how Iran would respond to a U.S.-led intervention in Iraq."

* "Iraqi exile opposition weaknesses are significant ... The debate on post-Saddam Iraq [during the war game] also reveals the paucity of information about the potential and capabilities of the external Iraqi opposition groups ... [T]here was no dispute that if the United States were to support them, much must be done in order for these groups to be politically credible within Iraq."

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